After more than half a century of a highly restrictive policy toward Cuba that ranged from an economic embargo to prohibiting most travel by U.S. citizens to the island, President Obama announced on Dec. 17, 2014, that Washington and Havana hope to restore diplomatic relations in the near future. While President Obama's new Cuba policy falls short of lifting the embargo, which can only be done through congressional action, it nonetheless represents a historic shift in U.S. relations and leadership in Latin America.
Joe Barnes, the institute's Bonner Means Baker Fellow, called the isolationist policy toward Cuba that the U.S. had in place for over 50 years "a textbook example of how not to conduct foreign affairs." Although it remains unclear how much legal latitude President Obama has in further loosening trade and travel restrictions without congressional action, Barnes writes, "one thing is certain: We are seeing a dramatic break with a half-century of largely counterproductive policy."
- Read "Normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations: Long overdue" in the Dec 18, 2014, Baker Institute Blog.
Erika de la Garza, program director of the Latin America Initiative, commented that the president's announcement is evidence that the Obama administration has embarked on a policy discourse toward Latin America much different from that of its predecessors. "The United States gradually began transforming its image in the region from that of the indifferent big kid on the block to that of an equal partner," she writes, and normalizing relations with Cuba will help seal this new image.
- Read "Obama's new Cuba policy: Catching up to Latin America" in the Dec. 19, 2014, Baker Institute Blog.
In a Houston Chronicle op-ed, Dylan McNally, research analyst at the Mexico Center, argues that the shift in U.S. policy on Cuba "sends a strong signal across the hemisphere that the U.S. is indeed ready for 'renewed leadership in the Americas.'" Improved foreign relations with Cuba and Latin America will have a direct impact on the lives of many U.S. citizens and residents, McNally writes, and will help propel U.S.-Latin American relations into the 21st century.
- Read "Obama makes vast, progressive changes to U.S. policy in Latin America" in the Dec. 19, 2014, Houston Chronicle.
In particular, Houston stands to gain from normalizing relations with Cuba, according to Mark P. Jones, fellow in political science. If the U.S. Congress fully lifted the embargo, Jones says that Houston would likely become the main U.S. port for shipping Midwestern agricultural products to Cuba, while Houston-based energy firms could compete to help develop oil and gas fields in Cuban waters.
- Listen to the full Dec. 17, 2014, interview on Houston Public Media.